Idaho and Oregon August 2003 Trip Report


For the two previous summers I had wanted to climb Borah Peak, the Idaho state highpoint, with Barney Metz of Lewiston, Idaho. With some good mountains in Oregon that happened to also be county highpoints, it was reasonable to combine these two events in the same trip.

I compared the life-cycle cost to my Tacoma truck of a trip to Idaho and Oregon, with the concept of flying to/from Boise and renting an auto. I opted for the latter scenario even though it restricted my choice of Oregon counties to those which are accessible with a low-clearance passenger vehicle. This choice also forced me to eat cold meals the entire trip since I was in general unwilling to spend extra money at restaurants.

The trip, as originally conceived, called for Borah Peak plus ten Oregon counties - a total of eleven. However as the trip drew close, it became clear that the first weekend would not be completely taken up by the one-day ascent of Borah. Thereby Barney Metz and I planned upon nabbing additional, lesser county highpoints - both on the drive from Boise to Borah Peak on Friday, and on Sunday after a successful summit bid the previous day.

Furthermore, I planned by departure date from Boise with an extra day or two in case of poor weather while in Oregon. With good weather, I would be able to secure an eleventh or even twelfth Oregon county. In the final outcome, I managed to squeeze sixteen counties into this trip - four in Idaho (including Custer County's Borah Peak), Box Elder County in Utah, and eleven Oregon counties.

Here is a trip itinerary as prepared for my parents prior to my departure. The itinerary contains material designed to allow my remote base camp manager to have peace of mind as I travel.

Trip Details

Friday, August 8

I arose around 4 a.m. for a shuttle bus to the San Diego airport. My flights to Salt Lake City and then to Boise were uneventful. I did get some photographs prior to touchdown in Salt Lake City. Here is a picture of the Great Salt Lake with Interstate 80 coursing along the south shore. Here is a picture of the huge open-pit copper mine at the foot of the Oquirrh Range.

Barney Metz and I did the Gooding county highpoint via his ATV. We got as close as reasonable in his vehicle prior to setting out on-foot: this was a summer afternoon in snake country, and we were wary and suspicious at every step.

We then did the Lincoln county highpoint with a similar combination of truck followed by ATV followed by travel on-foot. On the return we somehow got lost - and to this day we cannot fathom how: for we had only made two turns on the backcountry road grid; and had retraced our route more than once with mileages noted as well as personal recollection of this-and-that terrain feature.

We gave up trying to find the original approach road, and spent about two hours driving down a very bad 4WD track, generally south and east, to a farming area. We arrived at the Borah Peak trailhead well after sunset. I ate "supper" as Barney's passenger since the alternative was to eat by dark with a pre-dawn start the next morning.

We found Scott Surgent's rental car by its Utah license plate (he had flown into Salt Lake City). Scott was sleeping inside and, although we awaken him, he was gratified to see us finally arrive. Scott needed Borah Peak in his quest for the forty-eight state highpoints (he is not interested in -40 temperatures on Denali). We agreed to a 5:30 a.m. start - and so I set my cell phone's alarm feature to 4:45 a.m.

Saturday, August 9

Borah Peak was a complete success. Details can be learned from this trip report on my county highpoints website, complete with photographs.

Scott Surgent has also published a trip report for Borah Peak. Here is a summit photo of Scott and myself, taken by Barney Metz.

Upon descent we met in the nearest town for gasoline and refreshments. I had a six-pack of chocolate fudge ice cream bars as Barney drove us south for Box Elder County the following morning. While passing through Shoshone, Idaho I got the pint of green pistachio almond ice cream that had tempted me after Lincoln County the previous day. We went to a restaurant for a quick meal - I ordered nothing (I refuse to pay seven or eight dollars for a sandwich), and we finalized our plans for the next day.

We camped at the City of Rocks, a mecca for rock climbers, just north of the Utah state line.

Sunday, August 10

Barney and I caravaned with Scott until the road became questionable for Scott's rental. We transferred gear into Scott's vehicle and he joined us in Barney's vehicle for the drive up Bull Mountain.

We drove clear up to the 9,920+ ft contour that is the Box Elder County highpoint, took photographs, and then drove back to park under spot elevation 9,925 for the hundred-foot gain on foot to said spot - just to be certain that we had truly been at the county's highest point.

Scott parted with us and headed for some additional Utah county highpoints while Barney and I went to Cassia County for Cache Peak.

The combination of truck + ATV + travel on-foot performed admirably once again - the ATV getting us higher and farther towards the summit than possible with only the truck. We had a one thousand foot gain on foot to the summit - one with sweeping views of northwest Utah far below.

I took a nice photograph of Barney driving the ATV back into his truck using an inclined ramp specially designed to that end.

Barney had not used either the ice axe or seat harness rented from REI in Boise. We were fortunate to arrive just in time for him to return the gear for a refund (the store closed at six).

We then went to the airport for my rental car, and transferred my gear to it at a nearby gasoline station. With two or three hours of daylight, I drove west, across the Oregon border, to lessen the driving effort for the next day. Around nine p.m. (now Pacific time), I took a room in Unity, Oregon about fifty miles east of John Day on route 26.

Monday, August 11

I am quite pleased with the condition of Forest Service roads in Oregon. Most are paved in cases where other western states would have gravel or dirt. For Strawberry Mountain, the Grant County highpoint, nearly the entire thirty mile approach from John Day was paved. Here is a Strawberry Mountain trip report on my county highpoints website, complete with photographs.

After Strawberry Mountain I continued west on route 26 to Prineville, thence to Redmond, Bend, and finally to a campsite near South Sister for my ascent the next day. A camper took a photo of me with South Sister far in the distance.

Tuesday, August 12

Here is a South Sister trip report on my county highpoints website, complete with photographs.

My left foot was painful for the last one-third of the descent - some muscle had gone into spasm, and it hurt to walk downhill. In Bend I purchased an ACE bandage plus Ibuprofen, in case I had continuing problems the next day.

The road grid was inadequate for getting to my next day's venues in the southwestern part of the state. I ended up returning east to Bend, then went via Sisters to Interstate 5 at Springfield, taking a room in Cottage Grove near exit 190. The views of Mount Jefferson enticed me for an attempt next year.

Wednesday, August 13

After the 4,800 foot elevation gain of South Sister, I wanted to take it easier insofar as physical effort the following day. So I initiated my counterclockwise loop across southern Oregon, beginning with Coos and Curry Counties on the coast, since these have less elevation gain than all other remaining climbs.

This was to be my most unenjoyable day of the entire trip - short hikes with a LOT of winding backcountry roads to negotiate. In fact, I drove more miles on Forest Service roads this day, than on any single previous day in my experience - more than one hundred miles. Fortunately, they were nearly all paved.

I took exit 80 for Glendale, and then drove along the ridgetop road to Mount Bolivar - the Coos County highpoint. Here is a Mount Bolivar trip report on my county highpoints website, complete with photographs.

My left foot gave me no trouble. However I decided to keep the Ibuprofen and bandage in my pack for the remainder of my trip.

Rather than returning to Glendale, I drove west to FR33, which I took south to Agnes for gasoline and refreshments. The junction with FR23 was 1 1/2 miles back north. After some twenty miles east on FR23, I found FR2308 which I took for some 3.5 miles to a starting point for Brandy Peak of Curry County.

I left the trail noted by Trapper Robbins when southeast of the summit and two hundred feet below. The cross-country trek, although quite short, is moderately steep with poor footing.

A "shoe tree" was located along FR23, on the south side of the road and 6 1/2 miles east of its junction with FR2308. The only other shoe tree I have seen is along route 50 in Nevada, the "Loneliest Road in America".

Prior to my trip I had learned of a road closure on FR23 some two miles west of Galice. I had called the Forest Service and learned that it was a season-long closure do to rockfall. A detour, signed as such, was negotiated along Chrome Ridge Road - returning me to the paved road grid some three miles east of Galice.

By now it was approaching 5 p.m. and I was sick and tired of winding roads, paved or not. I enjoyed a cold chocolate drink - although I really wanted a pint of Umpqua brand Southern Fudge Pie ice cream. I did not have the time (or so I felt) to sit down and enjoy it. Umpqua is a regional dairy - I would enjoy their products soon enough.

Entering I-5, I passed through Medford and turned down camping at an RV site for seventeen dollars - heck, I could get a room for only a dozen dollars more! I continued on route 238 through Applegate, and finally camped about five miles west at an organized site for ten dollars.

Thursday, August 14

Here is a Grayback Mountain trip report on my county highpoints website.

By 10:45 a.m. I was down from climbing Grayback, the highpoint of Josephine County. With so much time available, I decided to both add Lake County onto my trip, and drive there in the afternoon. The benefit would come when, prior to Mount Thielsen, I would be driving the previous afternoon the much shorter distance from Mount McLoughlin (of Jackson County), rather than all the way from Lake County.

In effect, I "switched" around the venues for Friday and Saturday.

While at Applegate I enjoyed a pint of Umpqua Blackberry Mountain Revel ice cream - although I really wanted Southern Fudge Pie, it was unavailable despite my frantic search through the entire freezer section - handling every pint in stock to read the carton label. I ate the pint in the air-conditioned restaurant attached to the grocery store, amid real customers paying way too much for their own lunches and not even finishing what was on their plates. Disgusting - I hate waste and inefficient use of financial resources.

On driving east through Klamath Falls, I learned by cell phone from my base camp manager that fifty million Americans were in a blackout. From Detroit and Cleveland to New York City, everybody plunged into darkness just like in 1965. I wanted to get a room so I could learn firsthand. However I persevered and continued, via Lakeview, past the Willow Creek Campground, stopping only at the very point where I would be starting my ascent the following morning: where FR15 started uphill - a poor road that was impassible in my rental.

Included with supper was a pint container of three bean salad. I had left my can opener and pocket knife at home since I flew from San Diego and they are in my stove bag. My new ice axe did the trick. I placed the pint on the gravel, and, remaining at arm length, gave the metal top a gentle blow. A few whacks of this sort created a serrated gap large enough for the beans to fall out onto my waiting bowl. This is certainly a case of "breaking eggs with a sledgehammer"!

I took the silliest of photographs by waning light, namely, of my soft, yellow, insulated food container, with contents displayed, that I lovingly place inside my daypack. The large, lemon cheesecake cookies are very tasty even without milk. Note the smoked almonds as well as the pumpkin pie spice and raisins to enhance the "cookie experience".

Friday, August 15

Crane Mountain of Lake County entailed a 1,500 foot elevation gain with perhaps a six mile round trip. I followed the pack trail leading south, paralleling the ridge but to its east, for ten minutes on foot, before heading uphill, cross-country, to the summit area. Here are photographs from my climb, including one of the lake far below in the eastern Oregon desert.

After returning to Lakeview I drove to Klamath Falls on route 140. From there I mailed the remote base camp manager a birthday card, and enjoyed a frozen slice of Edwards brand caramel turtle fudge pie before heading out to a campsite under Mount McLoughlin for the following day.

I arrived at the Fourmile Lake Campground with plenty of daylight - it was only 4 p.m. I took a good photograph of Mount McLoughlin set behind the lake and the nearby forest. It was windy at my campsite as it was located atop a slight rise, with a commanding view of the entire lake. A group of teenagers from some Karate club in Klamath Falls were making camp across the way. Better to camp than to get into trouble on the streets, I suppose. After supper I enjoyed the (now room temperature) second slice of fudge pie.

Saturday, August 16

Here is a Mount McLoughlin trip report on my county highpoints website, complete with photographs.

It was only about a three hour drive to Mount Thielsen for the next day. I proceeded west on route 140 to White City just north of Medford. Before heading north on route 62, I enjoyed a pint of Umpqua brand Tin Roof Sundae ice cream, sharing some of it with a vagrant around the convenience store corner. I am happy to give food (here, three granola bars) to a stranger in need, so long as they do not appear to be drunk or obviously disturbed.

As I drove north on route 62, past numerous resorts along the Rogue River, a rock smacked into and shattered my front windshield. It had been flung by a truck passing in the opposite direction. I would be liable since, even though this was unavoidable, I had not taken out liability insurance. A one-inch circular pattern of shattered glass was left in the lower center - too large to be simply filled with some repair material. The entire pane would have to be replaced for $249.

I camped at site F-2 in a large area located near the southeast shore of Diamond Lake. Mount Thielsen appeared impressive. I tried to take a good photograph but the trees always got in the way.

Sunday, August 17

Here is a Mount Thielsen trip report on my county highpoints website, complete with photographs.

A photograph (by Bob Bolton) of the summit pinnacle demonstrates the difficult nature of the final eighty vertical feet.

After Mount Thielsen the trip was essentially a success - fifteen counties with only a pair remaining as afterthoughts. I returned to I-97 and headed north, past Bend, then Redmond, taking a long-awaited room in Prineville. It was room 16 - suggesting that I hold off on Spanish Peak of Wheeler County and get just Crook County's Lookout Mountain as a trip finisher.

There were actually two good reasons for nixing Wheeler County (a room number is not one of them). First, I had a low clearance vehicle that suggested an eleven mile road walk to the summit - a walk obviated with my truck on a future trip. Second, I felt compelled to return to Boise by Tuesday afternoon so as to get the windshield damage assessed by Budget personnel.

After supper in my room I celebrated my success with a pair of wine coolers, watching television until past eleven.

Monday, August 18

I climbed Lookout Mountain of Crook County today, via a cross-country route that headed southeast up a drainage from the Independence Mine, and then west on ever-gentler slopes to the highpoint area.

A somewhat leisurely day, I spent a good while in John Day exploring a general merchandise store and shopping for the fixings of a big salad for supper later that day. I enjoyed a frozen slice of Edwards brand mocha pecan fudge pie in my rental, the air conditioning running full-bore while parked, and then headed east on route 26 to a campsite some ten miles west of Unity.

The campsite manager, a lady of seventy-seven years, took this nice picture of me - so exhausting my film supply for the trip.

I slept well on the driver's seat - something I had gotten used to after ten days. The pillow from home helps considerably, as does my parka when it gets chilly in the wee hours before dawn.

Tuesday, August 19

In Unity I made several calls with my phone card, and then enjoyed the second slice of mocha pecan fudge pie with a 16 ounce coffee. This was an excellent combination, particularly since I had placed the slice in a market freezer as soon I arrived in town!

I returned to Boise and was at the Budget agency around eleven a.m. Mountain time.

After learning that I indeed would be charged for the windshield replacement, I found myself with nothing interesting to do. I located a Budget Inn downtown and basically "vegged out" in the room all afternoon after an early check-in.

One major highlight came with food shopping after securing my room. The Grocery Outlet features exceedingly low food prices - check them out at 2600 Fairview Ave in Boise or any of several other locations in Idaho and Utah. For example, imported Danish jams, 16 ounce size, 99 cents. Or how about Alaskan salmon, 15 ounce can, $1.29 .

Around 5:30 p.m. I called the store and talked with the manager. No, they do not normally ship food orders. However they do have an outlet in Oceanside, convenient to my home in Del Mar of north San Diego County. Grocery Outlet sells so cheaply because they receive the overstocked supply from supermarkets who have over-ordered. The specific items for sale varies with the date and location, so it may make sense to check out several stores instead of one.

A short (fifteen minute?) electrical blackout disturbed my viewing of Bloodsport. Apart from that, I had a thoroughly nonproductive, yet enjoyable day.

Wednesday, August 20

I awoke at 5:30 a.m., then fueled and returned my rental by 6:15 a.m. My 8 a.m. flight to Salt Lake City was uneventful. The flight to San Diego was punctuated by a middle-aged lady, also of San Diego, who invited me to work on her home computer setup, paying me for my services.

Altough I was initially enthusiastic, it was soon clear that she had emotional problems. First, she had just gotten divorced. Second, she ordered two of those tiny liquor bottles instead of the free beverages - and it was still morning! Third, she was inordinately insulted by a benign comment made by the stewardess. Finally, she called me anorexic after seeing me, for the first time in a standing position, in the baggage claim area. I am certainly skinny for an American - that I grant - but it is clearly out of place for her to label a stranger anorexic!

So I will not send her an e-mail confirming my appointment with her: some relationships are best left unexplored.


Sixteen counties puts my total county area over 700,000 square miles; gives me yet another western state highpoint; several good Cascade volcanoes; and a 194 county total. Perhaps most telling, I am now set up for a possible Oregon state completion in calendar 2004. Here is a hyperlink to my completion map resulting from this trip.